In vitro meat

Researchers in London served the first hamburger patty that came not from an animal but from genetic engineering.  Those who sampled it which consisted of protein generated from cattle stem cells, said that it tasted “almost like meat.”  Yum, yum.

But many people are heralding the development as the beginning of a new era in food.  No more need we kill animals.  No more will livestock operations pollute the land.  We will be able to generate cheap food for all.   Read about it after the jump, whereupon we will consider the implications.

From Lab-grown beef taste test: ‘Almost’ like a burger – The Washington Post:

It looked like a burger. It smelled like a burger. It tasted, well, almost like a burger.

The first lab-grown beef hamburger was cooked and eaten in London on Monday. “We proved it’s possible,” said scientist Mark Post, who created the cultured minced meat in his lab at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He said his hope is to come up with a new and environmentally friendly way to feed the world. . . .

The five-ounce burger patty — which cost more than $330,000 to produce and was paid for by Google co-founder Sergey Brin — arrived under a silver dome and was promptly put onto a pan to sizzle with a dab of butter and a splash of sunflower oil. The smells that drifted off toward the audience (a few invited journalists and scientists) were subtle but unmistakably meaty.

Next came the tasting. Besides Post, only two people were allowed to have a bite of the test-tube burger: Josh Schonwald, the American author of “The Taste of Tomorrow,” and Hanni Rützler, an Austrian nutritional scientist. Both said the burger tasted “almost” like a conventional one. No one spat the meat out; no one cringed.

Rützler gave the chef an appreciative nod. “It’s close to meat, but it’s not as juicy,” she said. “I was expecting the texture to be more soft. The surface was surprisingly crunchy.” She added: “I would have said if it was disgusting.” Schonwald said the product tasted like “an animal protein cake.”

Post said that lab-cultured meat can play an important role in the future: Not only could it help feed the planet, but it also could help solve environmental problems stemming from conventional meat production. “At the global level, if all meat would be lab-grown, the greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by 80 percent, and the water use by 90 percent,” says Hanna Tuomisto of the European Commission Joint Research Centre, who researches potential environmental impacts of lab-grown meat. . . .

Although the burger was a culmination of a five-year research project, it took Post only three months to grow it, using stem cells harvested from a cow’s shoulder. “That’s faster than [raising] a cow,” he said. Stem cells not only proliferate rapidly but can differentiate into various kinds of cells: muscle cells, bone cells, etc.

The type of stem cells that Post used, called satellite cells, are responsible for muscle regeneration after injury. . . .

The cells were placed in petri dishes in a nutrient mixture that helps them proliferate. There they grew into thin, 0.02-inch strands of muscle fiber — about 20,000 were used to create the burger presented in London.

Verstrate said that months were spent experimenting on how to make lab-grown strands of muscles into an actual burger. “The first time we baked it, in August last year, it was maybe two, three grams, no more. Mark and I tasted it, and so did a representative of Mr. Brin.”

The most challenging part for Verstrate was getting the color right. “The material was colorless, which was a bit strange. It was more like chicken,” he said. So he added a bit of red beet juice and saffron to color the meat (which were not apparent in the taste, according to Rützler).

Post said that creating the meat was just a first step; he would expect to see cultured meats in supermarkets in 10 to 20 years. At first, according to experts, it might be a luxury item, maybe in the form of such exotic treats as snow leopard burgers or rhino sausages, because it would not be much more difficult to make them than to produce beef or pork. . . .

“There is no future in conventional food production. The future is in in-vitro meat,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the animal rights group, who popped open some champagne to celebrate Post’s success. “There will be health benefits for human beings because that meat will be clean; it’s not raised on a dirty floor in a feedlot. It’s the beginning of the end of the shameful era of conventional meat production. There couldn’t be a more glorious development.”

Flash forward 50 years or so, assuming the technology is perfected.  If we are going to eliminate livestock farming, virtually all cattle and swine will have to be slaughtered any way, since there will be no environmental benefit as long as they are around.  Unless we let the animals all die of old age, there will be a global “last barbecue.”  And by then, surely we will also be able to genetically engineer carbohydrates, fiber, and the various nutrients we get from plants. Then factories will replace farms.

Would this be a good thing?  Do you see any theological implications?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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